Jane Bown’s lifetime in photography is justifiably celebrated and is in the news again through the publication of a collection of her most famous shots (‘Exposures’) and an exhibition at the Kings Place Gallery in London.
A selection of her fantastic portraits can be seen in the the gallery in the Observer .
All her subjects are in black and white and captured using just natural lighting. Bown, now in her 80s, is a modest and self effacing character who shuns the limelight and this is probably what allowed her to get close to her subjects, even those who were notoriously camera shy, like Lucien Freud and Samuel Beckett.
The eyes are what you are drawn to when you see these images.
This great picture of P.J. Harvey, which I hadn’t previously seen, illustrates what makes Jane Bown so great. In that strong sorrowful gaze you get a glimpse of what makes Polly Harvey’s music so powerful – the look (and the music) manages to be both assertive and fragile at the same time.
Brown almost certainly didn’t know Harvey’s music when she took this photo, just as she had never heard of Bjork or Jarvis Cocker when she was commissioned to photograph them. This shows that her skill lies in being an instinctive judge of what made people tick.